Fiction

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Thanks to Living Springs Publishers for publishing my story Now Would Be Forever in their 2019 Stories Through the Ages! It was a tremendous boost to a new writer who can now say “I am a published author.”  Now Would Be Forever tells about a close-knit rural family. Through a single admonition from his father to “go out into the world and do good,”  Isaac, the youngest of three children, does as his father asked. The resulting despair–not knowing where the young man is, if he is healthy, if he has food, if he has shelter–threatens to tear the family apart. When the father’s memory begins to fade, the diagnosis is devastating. Following is an excerpt from Now Would Be Forever. 

When Henry Stevens stood alone on the ridge surveying the rich, black fields below, something he couldn’t describe nor explain began in his heart and spread over and around him. A feeling inspired by the music of wind through the trees or perhaps something internal– the defense he had built over the years to preserve and protect this land his grandfather homesteaded– land his father later passed to him.
Years ago, when all that he assumed to be permanent was about to be swept away by the Great Depression, he did not break. Jaw set, fire in his eyes, Henry told himself, You must do the things you think you cannot do. You must…if you intend to save all that you hold dear.
So he did. He worked at the cannery in town during the day, coming home at night to plow, to plant, or to harvest until midnight. Perhaps until dawn when he would milk their one cow by lantern-light before he left for town. His wife would churn the rich cream into butter she sold to neighbors who could afford it –given free to those who could not.
As light follows dark—as when the sun finishes warming the other side of Earth and returns—the Depression receded into history. People could breathe again. Smiles returned to faces that had been pinched by hunger and doubt. Though food was again on tables, people were wary. Lessons learned through those troubled years taught them that ease was earned through hard work and that time alone could not be trusted.
Too many years of trials and tribulations had marked Henry. They manifested themselves in the slump of his shoulders. The feeling he could neither describe nor explain was responsible for deep sadness around his eyes.
Each day now, he searched the distant county road for a lone traveler, backpack across his shoulders. If he were there, the traveler, looking up, would wave as he turned into the lane leading to the farmhouse on the ridge.
If he were there.  Perhaps someday.
••••
It had been unspoken between them, a simple acknowledgment. Because Henry was rough around the edges he did not declare it to be love as it’s commonly known. He was shy, too, which complicated matters and made the acknowledgment even more difficult. Urged on by everyone in the town or simply deciding for himself that he had the courage to ask Matilda Adams to marry him, he did.
They were united one summer Saturday in the small brown log church between the county road and the unruly river. They celebrated with friends at the small cafe in town, toasting with iced tea, eating from a lopsided wedding cake baked by Simon Evans who owned the cafe. There would be no wedding trip–no escape to anywhere. There was work to be done. Work until each night they fell dead from it or until the very real threat of losing everything passed.
One day, with almost no fanfare, the Depression slowed, stopped, but not without leaving human casualties in its wake—thousands of folks who lost everything including their land. Henry and Matilda survived.  The land they loved remained in the family. Someday it would be in the hands of their children—three as different from each other as night from day.
Phillip was the first born. At the end of his baptism at age seven, he came up from the river smiling, wiping the water from his eyes, blessed by the Reverend Clyde Newcomb. He was inquisitive, articulate and amiable–his parents thankful for the grace they had been given.
Two years later, they gave thanks for Rebekah, born when Phillip was nine. His sister was also inquisitive, articulate, amiable—and determined. One might even have said stubborn. That one would have been her father! Almost from the time she could speak, she vowed she could–and would–do whatever she wanted with her life.
Phillip graduated from college with a degree in construction engineering, married and moved to a city nearby to pursue his career. A year after Phillip married, Henry William Stevens was born. Two years later, he and his wife were blessed with John Matthew Stevens.
Determination shaped Rebekah’s life. She would, she said with absolute certainty, become a doctor. It was unheard of at that time for women to pursue a career in medicine because the path was purposely littered with obstacles created to discourage them. Roadblocks thrown in the way by male practitioners who, firm in their conviction, agreed with one another that a woman doctor would be inferior. Frustrated, weary with having to fight to achieve her dream, she admitted to Henry one evening that she had decided to stop fighting.
He shook his head and took her hands in his. Bringing up from his past the same words he had used to encourage himself, he admonished his daughter Rebekah, you must do the things you think you cannot do. You must…if you intend to save all that you hold dear.
A new fire was ignited, she achieved what had appeared to be impossible–  Rebekah Stevens, MD.
And finally, there was Isaac, the youngest, the son his mother described as a sweet boy at loose ends. A loving child who became a thoughtful and kind young man, it was his nature to be more aware of things around him than on what he needed to do to make his way in the world. He was blissfully indifferent to what attitudes he should have, what strengths he should use to prepare himself for life. There were times when his father was afraid Isaac’s gentle nature might someday be troublesome.
For example, Isaac appeared one afternoon on the ridge leading a horse. He had witnessed something unacceptable–a man mistreating the animal. He offered the abuser all he had–five wadded up dollar bills– and the man accepted. Isaac had no idea what to do with the horse.  He only knew his humanity insisted that he save it. And so he did.
Henry frowned and scratched his head. “Son,” he said kindly, but with his usual practicality, “it will take a miracle to fatten that poor bag of bones and make him fit to work. You’ll have to do double chores to pay for his feed.”
Isaac nodded. “Yes, Papa, I know. I don’t mind.”
Because often at night, Isaac searched the sky from the ridge for his favorite constellation, he named his horse Orion.  It wasn’t feed or hay alone that put meat on Orion’s bones or gave luster to his coat, brightness to his eyes. It was love. Love as simple as Isaac, finishing twice his chores late at night, hugging his horse around the neck, brushing him and whispering in his ear. Responding to Isaac’s love, Orion adapted easily to the saddle.  The two were a common sight along the county road at dawn each morning.
Where Henry had admonished the first two of his children to “follow your dreams unfailingly as far as you can” the most he had for Isaac was “go out into the world and do good.” What it lacked in specificity, it made up for in intensity; it was a heavy admonition that puzzled Isaac. There was no how-to, no why. It was a momentous project that came without instructions.
So one summer night, Isaac filled a backpack with a few belongings–he didn’t have much yet–and went out alone into the world. The note he left under the pillow on his bed read, I will do as you told me, Papa. And I will come back when I can make you proud of me. I love you and Mama with all my heart. Your son, Isaac.
Devastated, Henry at first blamed himself for sending his son on a fool’s errand. But later, when he was not in his truck searching every county road, every gravel path–searching entire villages for his son–he screamed at God. He shouted at an unyielding heaven, threats that he would find a way to get back at God for what He had done to him. And finally, when he was exhausted and desperate, he begged God to tell him why. Why did you take my son away?When there was no answer he threatened, Then I will pray to a different god!
Matilda, because the God she knew was a jealous God, was afraid their sorrow would be magnified, that it would become even more unbearable. She pleaded with Henry–Be calm, my love. Isaac will come up the road, turn into our lane and we will see him again. Perhaps someday soon.

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Read the entire story in Stories Through The Ages now available on Amazon. 

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